traveling beyond covid simon smart hub cdp

Traveling beyond 2020 to reimagine the customer experience

by | Sep 23, 2020

The Travel & Hospitality Industry is probably the most stressful place to work right now for a number of reasons:

  • To what extent will travel rebound? 
  • Over what timeline? 
  • What major changes will we see persist beyond the next 2–3 years? 
  • How will these changes affect each sub-vertical within travel (e.g. airlines can adapt to changing destination preferences in ways that physical hotels cannot)?
  • What can be done now to prepare for any possible future?

By “preparation,” we’re not talking about stricter cleanliness guidelines, but about reimagining what capabilities the Travel & Hospitality industries can develop to serve customers better.

Adversity and volatility are to be expected; when and in what form they will come is what we can’t predict. 

But volatility separates the brave and thoughtful from the scared and reactive. Travel businesses aren’t powerless, however; critical areas of investment and improvement yet exist and making wise moves today can be the difference between success or failure tomorrow and in the longer term.

Digital transformation is all about the customer

Enterprise Travel & Hospitality brands were some of the earliest digital adopters, meaning there’s likely some subpar tech in your stack. Now is the perfect time to inspect your technology stack for weak tech, bad data, high-latency integrations, and suboptimal workflows. 

Think strategically about using this downtime to invest in shortening your digital transformation roadmap from 5 or 10 years to as little as three months

But why endure the headaches of a digital transformation in the first place? The first and best answer is this: your customers

An exciting silver-lining for the travel industry is just how eager people are to travel right now. Consumers are craving information on what is open and available. Travelers have broadened the scope of what is exciting to them (e.g., local getaways over global excursions). This makes messaging, partner sponsorships, and digital journey experimentation even more important.

Better, more intuitive technology that eliminates silos and bottlenecks can enable your marketers to automate workflows, test new ideas, and ultimately communicate as humanly as possible when it matters most — like now. It’s likely that people have never wanted travel advice more than they do now. Even if offering the best advice doesn’t mean immediate conversions, you are building a trust-based relationship that will ultimately yield loyal customers.

How to foster loyalty without destroying your margins

Customer loyalty is a fickle thing in Travel & Hospitality, where people largely shop based on price and convenience. For this reason, the travel industry invented the modern-day loyalty program in an attempt to incentivize brand monogamy, but now everyone is just a member of multiple loyalty programs. 

The sometimes hard-to-swallow truth about business today is that — to compete against digital-first challenger brands — every company must be a media company in addition to their core business offerings. 

For instance, when COVID-related travel restrictions first hit, Airbnb was able to quickly pivot its worldwide Airbnb Experiences to digital format to sate users’ wanderlust with personal concerts in Paris or virtual street tours through Dublin. 

It’s not just that this was a product they could offer. Airbnb could use these engagements to learn more about their customers, and thus more effectively market to them now and in the future. 

For example: Did you do the virtual walking tour through Florence in May 2020? Now that it’s 2022, here are the top 20 Airbnb stays in and around Florence, a list of things to do while you’re there, and a list of similar destinations that appeal to the cohort to which you belong (without literally saying you belong to a cohort that we monitor and test against).

Customer experience through customer architecture

Becoming the customer-centric travel brand

Travel & Hospitality have a chance right now to become something more than a physical destination or means of conveyance. At the moment, you’ve got less to sell and fewer people buying. The digital era is now five years ahead of schedule. We are not out of the woods with this pandemic, and we have no idea what diseases (or worse) may follow. 

If enterprise Travel & Hospitality brands are to remain viable for the long-term and weather any storm, their value propositions must live equally in the clouds and The Cloud. 

Being customer-centric translates to delivering not just travel and experiences but meaning. Meaning is different for everyone, so you need to be able to dig into your customer file and learn real things about real people and create action plans at scale. 

While expanding your media arm might not be simple, leveraging the data you get from customer interactions to automate workflows and deliver value will be the easy part.

 

The customer-centric approach

Below is a scenario-play of how one piece of information can trigger a customer-centric marketer’s curiosity and creativity to serve customers better. With the right technology in place, this kind of ideation to actualization will be clicks away.

Bob is traveling to .

Why is Bob is traveling to ?

It's travel for pleasure

How do we know this?

  • Bob has engaged with content about this country, similar destinations, and long-term travel.
  • Looking at historical records, Bob flies to a new, international location for ~2 weeks every year.
  • Bob’s wife and kids are also on the reservation.
  • Bob paid for the flight with points. Were he flying for business, he would have paid with either a business card or with a personal card for reimbursement.

How do we use this knowledge?

We test and learn ways to become his vendor of choice for helping achieve his dreams of seeing X, Y, & Z. What content or special offers would make us the go-to “purveyor of travel dreams?” What content can we serve to learn more about his future travel plans? Can we create a profile builder where he can volunteer this information?

What can we do to scale these insights?

Create a segment based on our combination of data and marketing intuition to create test and holdout groups to measure incremental ROI of different “jetsetter” persona offerings.

He's visiting his childhood home

How do we know this?

  • Looking at historical records, Bob flies to the same airport during the holidays every year.
  • Bob has set up price alerts for this destination outside of peak travel seasons.
  • Bob has never engaged with content about this area, so we might infer that he knows it well.
  • Digging back, we can see that 10 years ago, Bob’s phone number matched this location.
  • Digging back, we can also see that the local airport used to be Bob’s primary airport.

How do we use this knowledge?

Do a historical analysis to uncover how often and during what seasons he usually travels home. We can test and learn by creating custom packages or date-flexible price alerts for Bob’s bi-annual hometown visits. This could also feed into the profile builder for the jetsetter persona.

What can we do to scale these insights?

Create a test group and holdout group in our “occasional traveler” cohort to see if the offerings we’ve developed are enough to increase loyalty, as measured by a rise in consistency in bookings with us around times we infer they are traveling based on historical records.

It's a business trip

How do we know this?

  • Bob is flying alone rather than with his family, with whom he often travels.
  • Bob didn’t use his business card, but he did book business class, which he never does when his family members are also on the reservation.
  • He paid with a card rather than points. When flying with his family, Bob always uses points, so we can infer that his job reimburses his travel expenses and he racks up points with business travel.

How do we use this knowledge?

What do we know about him that we can leverage to make recommendations, so he truly enjoys the time he’s not working? What partnerships can we leverage to make Bob fall in love with this destination (and, by extension, our brand)? Can his good experience extend to him referring coworkers and people in his network?

What can we do to scale these insights?

Test different offerings and messages within the “business traveler” cohort to learn which partnerships drive the most value, what messages most resonate, and what upsells are most effective. Build a referral program to track success and increase acquisitions or purchase frequency.

Bob is traveling to .

Why is Bob is traveling to ?

It's travel for pleasure

He's visiting his childhood home

It's a business trip

How do we know this?

  • Bob has engaged with content about this country, similar destinations, and long-term travel.
  • Looking at historical records, Bob flies to a new, international location for ~2 weeks every year.
  • Bob’s wife and kids are also on the reservation.
  • Bob paid for the flight with points. Were he flying for business, he would have paid with either a business card or with a personal card for reimbursement.
  • Looking at historical records, Bob flies to the same airport during the holidays every year.
  • Bob has set up price alerts for this destination outside of peak travel seasons.
  • Bob has never engaged with content about this area, so we might infer that he knows it well.
  • Digging back, we can see that 10 years ago, Bob’s phone number matched this location.
  • Digging back, we can also see that the local airport used to be Bob’s primary airport.
  • Bob is flying alone rather than with his family, with whom he often travels.
  • Bob didn’t use his business card, but he did book business class, which he never does when his family members are also on the reservation.
  • He paid with a card rather than points. When flying with his family, Bob always uses points, so we can infer that his job reimburses his travel expenses and he racks up points with business travel.

How do we use this knowledge?

We test and learn ways to become his vendor of choice for helping achieve his dreams of seeing X, Y, & Z. What content or special offers would make us the go-to “purveyor of travel dreams?” What content can we serve to learn more about his future travel plans? Can we create a profile builder where he can volunteer this information?

Do a historical analysis to uncover how often and during what seasons he usually travels home. We can test and learn by creating custom packages or date-flexible price alerts for Bob’s bi-annual hometown visits. This could also feed into the profile builder for the jetsetter persona.

What do we know about him that we can leverage to make recommendations, so he truly enjoys the time he’s not working? What partnerships can we leverage to make Bob fall in love with this destination (and, by extension, our brand)? Can his good experience extend to him referring coworkers and people in his network?

What can we do to scale these insights?

Create a segment based on our combination of data and marketing intuition to create test and holdout groups to measure incremental ROI of different “jetsetter” persona offerings.

Create a test group and holdout group in our “occasional traveler” cohort to see if the offerings we’ve developed are enough to increase loyalty, as measured by a rise in consistency in bookings with us around times we infer they are traveling based on historical records.

Test different offerings and messages within the “business traveler” cohort to learn which partnerships drive the most value, what messages most resonate, and what upsells are most effective. Build a referral program to track success and increase acquisitions or purchase frequency.

If you relied solely on the creative brainstorming portion of this exercise to bear priceless customer-centric fruit, you would have a lot of underripe nuggets to gnaw. 

Without a deeply embedded foundation of data that is made accessible to non-technical users and an interface that allows for the kinds of testing required to validate marketing efforts, the above are just fanciful daydreams.

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